Back home again – final Midorikai interlude

Graduation from school brought with it the same feelings I have always gotten: joy from completing something I set my mind to do, anxiety for things that are out of my control (like anything related to the future), nostalgia for the beginning memories and anticipation for the wonderful things just over the horizon. It’s such a mixed bag of strong emotions. Kyoto is such a beautiful city with such interesting people and I have enjoyed living in my part of town with the view from the rooftop, the daily fire caller man who walks the streets chanting and striking his clappers together, the smells of delicious cooking food when I bicycle in the evenings, sitting by the river drinking a grape fizzy Mistio soda and bird or people watching, walking popular streets like Shijo or Teramachidori, paying my respects to temples and shrines…the list goes on and on. The sakura were starting to bloom as I was departing and that was also really special. We came full-circle, nature wise too. Sure there have been many challenges: Kyoto has extreme weather (for an Oregonian) in the summer and winter, I had troubles with my legs sitting seiza, school kept me incredibly busy, and just being far away from my family. I was elated to learn how wonder, delight and gratitude returned to my awareness in spades. Prior to this it was easy to be hung up by the daily plannings, dramas, technology-pitfalls, isolation, etc. It takes work to live a happier life, and tough choices and decisions.

Now I sit in the San Francisco airport, having departed from Kyoto. I was the last sempai to leave, the other three having already departed for Osaka and their flights home. It was wonderful to see them off. My kohai saw me off and I was grateful for that as well. They will become sempai and as I was leaving, there was a call that the first new kohai arrival was on her way. It’s fun how that happens.

I can’t sum up this year with just words. If you haven’t done this experience it’s impossible to explain. We each have our own wonderful stories to tell. I have so many stories and memories and things that I’ve worked out for myself that I will cherish for years to come. Besides these occasional musings, I wrote one page a day in a journal about my daily life at Midorikai. Perhaps I’ll revisit that for a project someday. The things that resonated with me, well, I hope and pray they will guide me and be present in my life. My enthusiasm keeps me deleting so much of what I want to say because I just feel that words are insufficient.

The four of us sempai sat around the gakuen kitchen table waiting to say thank you to the office (saying thank you before and after things is VERY important here), and we all agreed that we felt very lucky to have experienced this together, at this time, at this place and that we were so happy to have these memories, this shared time. We also have been there, we understand. It was like doing color guard in the drum corp or backpacking Europe. It’s difficult to understand or to talk about it if you weren’t there. I hope that with these brief writings you were able to glimpse, even briefly, this fabulous, zen world.

I will continue to learn and grow and focus on the things I learned here. Man, there sure are a lot of them. Thank you for reading!

Love Karla

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Chakai planning 2017

This year, I have several students who have put on a chakai or are planning to put on chakai for guests.  It takes a lot of planning and effort to do this, and yes a lot of courage to do it.  From the beginning to just decide to host a gathering is kind of a scary thing to do.  I am very proud of these students who have stepped up or are about to step up in their training and take the plunge.

The tea gathering can be as simple as sweets and usucha, or as elaborate as a full kaiseki, charcoal fire, koicha, and usucha.  No matter what the gathering, planning is essential.  At every stage, decisions about the date, venue, who to invite, invitations, toriawase, temae, and a thousand other things crowd together.  With food or without food, what kind of sweets, who will make them? It helps to have support, so recruiting fellow students to  share the workload is important as well.

Over the years, I have developed a utensil checklist to help with the planning and a countdown, from the first planning, to the day of the event, so nothing is forgotten. Role definition, seating arrangements, and parallel flowcharts of the order of things and of what is happening in the kitchen, mizuya and honseki are helpful as well.

Wedding planners, caterers, event managers, and project managers will recognize many of these tools, because pulling off a chakai is a major event.  The more planning up front, the less possibility of an unrecoverable disaster the day of the event.

But even the best planned event probably will have its own disasters, so hosts should remain flexible with a sense of humor, and strive to work out solutions on the spot without resorting to blame.  After all, the guest’s experience is what counts.

Besides, what are we training every week in class for?  So that when the time comes, you can present tea splendidly and without shame.  I hope you will decide to host a tea gathering this year.  If you do, please send me a photo or let me know about it.

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Lifelong learning

At presentations and demonstrations of chado, I am often asked how long I have studied, or how long you need to study to attain tea master ship. This is kind of a loaded question for me.  The study of chado is so broad and so deep that it would take a lifetime to just know what it is all about, and several if not many more lifetimes to be competent at some of them, and probably another 20 more lifetimes to attain master ship in few of the disciplines.

So while I have been studying for more than 30 years, not all of them have been diligent study, as the first 5-7 years, I was not a good student to the exasperation of my sensei.  She called me the flying girl, because I could not keep my focus long enough to get through a temae, let alone sit through a whole class with concentration. But somewhere around 10 years, I began to get serious and began to apply myself.  That meant that I studied and practiced temae between weekly classes, and I practiced sitting seiza so that I could sit longer.

I cannot say that my study of chado has been continuous, and I can truthfully admit that I almost quit any number of times.  But something always drew me back.  That my life lacked something when I was not studying chado. I would attend a chakai, or hear a speaker or read something and I would become inspired all over again.  When I made the commitment to train for my one year at Midorikai, my sensei became so strict with me, that sometimes I thought I would never be ready to go to Japan.

After I returned from Japan, I wanted to share so much of what I learned.  I was so grateful to all of the sensei who poured the time, effort and love into me in the hopes that I would go home and teach the way of tea. I am still so grateful to those teachers, and yes my sempai, who were patient with me and had such high expectations of me.  I also thank most sincerely Hounsai Daisosho, who gave me the opportunity, means and provision to spend that magical year in Kyoto with the hopes I would help fulfill the mission of “ichiwan kara peacefulness” peace through a bowl of tea.

So for the last 20 years, I have tried, first with Bonnie Mitchell sensei in Seattle and on my own when I moved to Portland, to continue my studies.  There is still so much I do not know.  And yet, that is part of the draw — to find out more. Through meeting people who know more, reading, independent research, trying new things, giving myself projects, teaching others, I am learning more each day.

And as Torigai sensei told me in Kyoto, to pass on what I have learned because knowledge gained, if it is not shared, is knowledge lost.  How much more do I have to go to attain master ship in chado — many more lifetimes.

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Urasenke Portland Association Rikyuki

On April 25,  for Rikyuki, we decided to try a few things a little different.  As the guests came in, they were served osayu in the machiai.  The guests then entered the honseki where they offered a flower in the many hanging vases next to the tokonoma before toko haiken and then viewing the tea utensils.After the offering of tea was placed in the tokonoma, misonodana table style was used to make usucha for the guests who were seated all on benches, stools and chairs. Rikyu manju sweet was made by Mieko Heriford.

After a  lunch of sushi, vegetables, and fruits were served, some of the guests participated in three rounds of misonodana kagetsu where participants were seated at table and stools. Tea was made at the misonodana with a hanto to help with serving and moving the oriusue.



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Shaon chakai and graduation – Midorikai interlude

the beginning

Graduates and sensei

The final week of classes was spent relishing our remaining time together. Our last jitsugi was spent doing shaza, a teaching exercise that combines flower arranging, laying of the charcoal, incense appreciation, making koicha (thick tea) and making usucha (thin tea). It’s a really fun one, as everyone has a task that they are responsible for doing. We are still quite slow and constantly seem to stand up or walk with the wrong foot, but we are always learning a bit more each day. It’s a good reminder to keep the positive momentum going when we return to our home countries and won’t benefit from as large of practice rooms, groups of interested students, access to supplies and other challenges that arise when you are studying chado outside of Japan. I hope that we may all continue to grow in our study of Japanese culture in whatever form it takes. The nice thing about chado is that it includes a piece of many traditional Japanese art forms and so when you appreciate the tea ceremony you are really appreciating architecture, nature, literature, cuisine, handicrafts, art and much, much more.

Roses from our Kohai

I’ve come to love the Japanese language as well and I hope to continue to study more of it after I graduate. It’s full of such nuance that it doesn’t always translate well in to English and I am genuinely interested in so much of what is being said. Here though, it’s been sadly easy to let my independent language studies slide as I have found it too mentally difficult to throw my educational-attention in so many different directions at once. I’m just too exhausted. I’ve had to become content with just trying to improve my “tea room” Japanese and call that sufficient for now. I’ve become friends with a few of the Japanese students who speak a small bit of English and together in my broken Japanese and their slightly better broken English and sometimes with translation from a friend or two, we have a very pleasant time together. People have been kind, friendly and generous to me and I hope that I’ve been able to communicate those same feelings back. I’ve learned to read and write both hiragana and katakana, the two alphabets that are used to phonetically sound out different words, and so I have been able to read signs and menus adequately enough. Knowing what I’m reading or writing is more difficult 😛 I also know a handful of kanji, mostly related to the weather or the tea room in some way. It’s more than I knew a year ago so that’s something but I’ll need to work hard. Learning language(s) besides English is very important to me. I want to continue to work on my Swedish and Spanish too. Glad that all three languages are quite different from each other! Anyway, I digress.
Shaon Chakai
For our final week of class, we were asked to assist the third year students for their final Shaon chakai. This chakai is done annually as a way for the third-year students to thank their teachers and fellow students for their time at Urasenke. It’s supposed to show everything they have learned, and it’s the largest event they plan as a group during their time at school. We sempai were asked to serve tea to the guests, like we have often done before. It was pleasant and there were 10 seatings ranging in size from the Sen family up to 25 (or so) guests.

graduates together


The day of graduation arrived. I can’t believe that it has been one year since I stood up, like all the other new students, in my black suit and bowed to O’iemoto and Okusama when they read the roll call in front of the school to introduce the new students. This time we also had a ceremony that was short but nice. We received graduation certificates and the third-year students received their tea names, to show that they are sufficiently experienced to teach others the way of tea. We at Midorikai are far from this stage but we are all excited to teach others what we have learned in some small ways. We received presents from the school and roses from our kohai. We had a nice lunch and later in the evening we had a dinner followed by a karaoke party. I continue to be so grateful for this experience and am glad that our group made it, friendships intact.

Karla and Oiemoto

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